English 3900 Critical Approaches to Literature, Fall 2017

TR 2:00-3:15PM, Arts & Sciences 340A




Dr. Alex E. Blazer


Office Hours: TR 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 5:00-5:30 p.m., Arts & Sciences 330


Course Description


The undergraduate course catalog describes English 3900 as "A course studying a variety of critical approaches to selected literary texts. Required for graduation with literature concentration." In this course, we will survey many of the current theoretical approaches to literature: liberal humanism, New Criticism and Russian formalism; psychoanalytic criticism; Marxist criticism, cultural materialism, and New Historicism; feminist criticism and gender studies; lesbian/gay criticism and queer theory; and postcolonial criticism. We may cover structuralism and semiotics; poststructuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism; African American criticism; ecocriticism, existentialism and phenomenology, reader-response criticism, and cognitive criticism, depending on student selection. For each theory, we will first gain a critical overview from Peter Barry's Beginning Theory. Next, we will read representative theoretical articles collected in Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan's Literary Theory. Finally, we will practice using literary theory with the aid of Lois Tyson's Using Critical Theory. Students will summarize a theoretical article, apply a theoretical article, and practice interpretation. The three exams will test students' understanding of the theory as well as their ability to apply the method in literary interpretation. Student groups will present a theory to the class.


This course's Academic Assessment page describes our topics:

as well as course outcomes:

This course is part of the Literature Concentration's sequence of courses 2200-3900-4900 (Writing about Literature-Critical Approaches to Literature-Seminar on Literature). This course's prerequisite is English 2200 or permission of the department chair.


Course Materials


required (Amazon or GCSU Bookstore)

Barry, Beginning Theory, 3rd ed.

Rivkin and Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology, 3rd ed.

Tyson, Using Critical Theory, 2nd ed.

required (GeorgiaVIEW)

course packet


Assignments and Grade Distribution


article summary, 5%

You will summarize in writing and then informally present to the class one theoretical essay.

article application, 5%

You will apply in writing and then informally present to the class one theoretical essay to the reading of a work of literature.

interpretation exercise, 5%

You will pair up to write an essay that uses concepts from literary theory and formally present your essay to the class.

group presentation, 10%

You will divide into groups of 3-4 to formally present a critical theory to the class.

3 exams, 25%, 25%, and 25%

These three exams, the first in-class, the second take-home, and the third take-home, will test your knowledge of key concepts as well as your ability to apply critical approaches in interpretations of works of literature.


Course Policies



We will use the course site for the syllabus schedule and assignment prompts; supporting documents include an attendance record, a course grade calculation spreadsheet, FAQ, a GeorgiaVIEW walkthrough, a guide to literary analysis, a research methods guide, and paper templates. We will use GeorgiaVIEW for assignment submission and the course packet; if you experience problems with GeorgiaVIEW, immediately contact support. Check your university email for course-related messages. Use an online backup or cloud storage service to not only save but also archive versions of your work in case of personal computer calamities.


Because this liberal arts course values contemporaneous discussion over fixed lecture, regular attendance is required. Any student who misses seven or more classes for any reason (excused or unexcused) will fail the course. There will be a one letter final grade deduction for every unexcused absence beyond three. I suggest you use your three days both cautiously and wisely; and make sure you sign the attendance sheets. Habitual tardies, consistently leaving class early, texting, and surfing the internet will be treated as absences. Unexcused absences include work, family obligations, and scheduled doctor's appointments. Excused absences include family emergency, medical emergency, religious observance, and participation in a college-sponsored activity. If you have a medical condition or an extracurricular activity that you anticipate will cause you to miss more than four days of class, I suggest you drop this section or risk failure. The university class attendance policy can be found here. You can check your attendance here.

MLA Style and Length Requirements

Part of writing in a discipline is adhering to the field's style guide. While other disciplines use APA or Chicago style, literature and composition follows MLA style. In-class exams, discussion board responses, informal/journal writing, and peer review may be informally formatted; however, formal assignments and take-home exams must employ MLA style. One-third of a letter grade will be deducted from a formal paper or take-home exam for problems in each of the following three categories, for a possible one letter grade deduction total: 1) margins, header, and heading, 2) font, font size, and line-spacing, and 3) quotation and citation format. A formal paper or take-home exam will be penalized one-third of a letter grade if it does not end at least halfway down on the minimum page length (not including Works Cited page) while implementing 12 pt Times New Roman font, double-spacing, and 1" margins. Each additional page short of the minimum requirement will result in an a additional one-third letter grade penalty. It is your responsibility to learn how to control your word-processing program. Before you turn in a formal paper, make sure your work follows MLA style by referring to the FAQ handout and using the MLA style checklist. Feel free to use these templates that are preformatted to MLA style.

Late Assignments

We're all busy with multiple classes and commitments, and adhering to deadlines is critical for the smooth running of the course. There will be a one letter assignment grade deduction per day (not class period) for any assignment that is turned in late. I give short extensions if you request one for a valid need at least one day before the assignment is due. I will inform you via email if I cannot open an electronically submitted assignment; however, your assignment will be considered late until you submit it in a file I can open. Because your completion of this course's major learning outcomes depends on the completion of pertinent assignments, failing to submit an assignment that is worth 15% or more of the course grade within a five days of its due date will result in failure of the course. Failing to submit a final exam or final paper within two days of its due date will result in failure of the course.

Academic Honesty

The integrity of students and their written and oral work is a critical component of the academic process. The Honor Code defines plagiarism as "presenting as one's own work the words or ideas of an author or fellow student. Students should document quotes through quotation marks and footnotes or other accepted citation methods. Ignorance of these rules concerning plagiarism is not an excuse. When in doubt, students should seek clarification from the professor who made the assignment." The Undergraduate Catalog defines academic dishonesty as "Plagiarizing, including the submission of others’ ideas or papers (whether purchased, borrowed, or otherwise obtained) as one’s own When direct quotations are used in themes, essays, term papers, tests, book reviews, and other similar work, they must be indicated; and when the ideas of another are incorporated in any paper, they must be acknowledged, according to a style of documentation appropriate to the discipline" and "Submitting, if contrary to the rules of a course, work previously presented in another course," among other false representations. "As plagiarism is not tolerated at GCSU, "since the primary goal of education is to increase one's own knowledge," any student found guilty of substantial, willful plagiarism or dishonesty will fail the assignment and the course. Here is how I have dealt with plagiarists in the past. This course uses plagiarism prevention technology from TurnItIn. The papers may be retained by the service for the sole purpose of checking for plagiarized content in future student submissions.

Passing or Failing of the Course

There are three ways to fail the course: failing to regularly attend class, plagiarizing, failing an assignment that is worth 15% or more of the course grade, be it from poor quality, lateness of submission, or a combination of poor quality and lateness. By contrast, students who regularly attend class, complete their work with academic integrity, and submit assignments on time will pass the course.

The Writing Center

The Writing Center is a free service available to all members of the university community. Consultants assist writers in the writing process, from conception and organization of compositions to revision to documentation of research. Located in Library 228, the Center is open Monday through Friday. Call 445-3370 or email for more information.

Additional Policies

Additional statements regarding the Religious Observance Policy, Assistance for Student Needs Related to Disability, Student Rating of Instruction Survey, Academic Honesty, and Fire Drills can be found here.


Course Schedule

Week 1

T, 8-22

Interpretation Survey

Critical and Literary Theory

R, 8-24

Formalist Criticisms: Liberal Humanism, New Criticism, and Russian Formalism

Overview: Barry, "Introduction" and "Theory before 'Theory'—Liberal Humanism" (Barry 1-37)

Overview: Rivkin and Ryan, "Formalisms" (Rivkin 3-7)

Overview: Tyson, "Critical Theory and You" (Tyson 1-12)

Theory: Brooks, "Formalist Critics" (Rivkin 15-20)

Week 2

T, 8-29

Theory: Wimsatt and Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy" (Rivkin 29-41)

Theory: Shklovsky, "Art as Technique" (Rivkin 8-14)

Theory: O'Sullivan, "Broken on Purpose: Poetry, Serial Television, and the Season" (Rivkin 42-54)

R, 8-31

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from New Critical Theory to Understand Literature" (38-80)

In Class Activity: Practice Interpretation Exercise

Week 3

T, 9-5

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Overview: Barry, "Psychoanalytic Criticism" (Barry 92-115)

Overview: Rivkin and Ryan, "Strangers to Ourselves: Psychoanalysis" (Rivkin 567-74)

Theory: Freud, "The Interpretation of Dreams" (Rivkin 575-91)

Theory: Freud, "The Uncanny" (Rivkin 592-614)

Theory: Freud, "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego" (Rivkin 615-7)

R, 9-7

Theory: Lacan, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience" (Rivkin 618-23)

Theory: Winnicott, "Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena" (Rivkin 624-36)

Week 4

T, 9-12

No Class: Hurricane Irma

R, 9-14

Theory: Kristeva, from Revolution in Poetic Language (GeorgiaVIEW)

Theory: Deleuze and Guattari, from A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (GeorgiaVIEW)

Week 5

T, 9-19

Theory: Hinrichsen, "Trauma Studies and the Literature of the US South" (Rivkin 636-59)

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Psychoanalytic Theory to Understand Literature" (Tyson 81-109)

In Class Activity: Psychoanalytic Interpretation Exercise

R, 9-21

Exam 1

Week 6

T, 9-26

Historical Criticisms: Marxism, New Historicism, and Cultural Materialism

Overview: Barry, "Marxist Criticism" (Barry 150-165)

Overview: Barry, "New Historicism and Cultural Materialism" (Barry 166-84)

Overview: Rivkin and Ryan, "Starting with Zero" (Rivkin 711-6)

Theory: Marx, from The Philosophic and Economic Manuscripts of 1844 (Rivkin 717-29)

Theory: Marx, from The German Ideology (Rivkin 730-5)

R, 9-28

Theory: Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (Rivkin 736-44)

Theory: Bourdieu, "Structures and the Habitus" (Rivkin 745-67)

Theory: Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (Rivkin 768-77)

Week 7

T, 10-3

Theory: Foucault, "Right of Death and Power over Life" (Rivkin 778-91)

Theory: Montrose, "New Historicisms" (Rivkin 809-31)

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Marxist Theory to Understand Literature" (110-138)

R, 10-5

Feminist Criticism and Gender Studies

Overview: Barry, "Feminist Criticism" (Barry 116-33)

Overview: Rivkin and Ryan, "Feminist Paradigms/Gender Effects" (Rivkin 893-900)

Theory: Rubin, "The Traffic in Women" (Rivkin 901-24)

Week 8

T, 10-10

No Class: Fall Break

R, 10-12

Theory: Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa" (Rivkin 940-54)

Theory: Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" (Rivkin 955-62)

Week 9

T, 10-17

Theory: Mohanty, "Women Workers and Capitalist Scripts" (Rivkin 976-999)

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Feminist Theory to Understand Literature" (Tyson 139-71)

R, 10-19

Lesbian Criticism, Gay Criticism, and Queer Theory

Overview: Barry, "Lesbian/Gay Criticism" (Barry 134-49)

Theory: Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience" (Rivkin 924-39)

Week 10

T, 10-24

Theory: Sedgwick, from Epistemology of the Closet (Rivkin 1014-23)

Theory: Puar, "'I Would Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess': Becoming Intersectional in Assemblage Theory" (Rivkin 1000-13)

R, 10-26

Theory: Muñoz, from Cruising Utopia (Rivkin 1054-65)

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Theories to Understand Literature" (Tyson 172-205)

Hurricane Irma Make Up Work Due

Week 11

T, 10-31

Writing Day: Bring Your Laptops

Exam 2 Due

R, 11-2

Postcolonial Criticism

Overview: Barry, "Postcolonial Criticism" (Barry 185-95)

Overview: Rivkin and Ryan, "English without Shadows: Literature on a World Scale" (Rivkin 1099-1106)

Theory: Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness" (Rivkin 1137-46)

Group Project Sign Up

Week 12

T, 11-7

Theory: Said, "Orientalism" (Rivkin 1107-36)

Theory: Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (Rivkin 1147-62)

R, 11-9

Group Project Topic and Conferences

Week 13

T, 11-14

Theory: Appadurai, "Disjunctural and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy" (Rivkin 1180-91)

Theory: Hall, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora" (Rivkin 1191-1201)

R, 11-16

Theory: Kincaid, "A Small Place" (Rivkin 1174-9)

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Postcolonial Theory to Understand Literature" (Tyson 245-84)

Hurricane Irma Make Up Work Due

Week 14

T, 11-21

Group Presentation: Existentialism and Phenomenology

Overview: Dufrenne, "Existentialism and Existentialisms"


Theory: Sartre, "Why Write?" (GeorgiaVIEW)

R, 11-23

No Class: Thanksgiving Holidays

Week 15

T, 11-28

Group Presentation: Ecocriticism

Overview: Bressler, "Ecocriticism" (GeorgiaVIEW)

Theory: Love, "Toward an Ecological Criticism" (GeorgiaVIEW)

Theory: Mazzel, "Ecocritical Theory, American Literary Environmentalism" (GeorgiaVIEW)

R, 11-30

Group Presentation: Structuralism

Overview: Tyson, "Structuralism" (GeorgiaVIEW)

Theory: Culler, "The Linguistic Foundation" (Rivkin 134-6)

Exam 3 Topics

Week 16

T, 12-5

Group Presentation: Reader-Response Criticism

Overview: Tyson, "Reader Response Criticism" (GeorgiaVIEW)

Theory: Iser, "The Reading Process: A Phenomonological Approach" (GeorgiaVIEW)

R, 12-7

Overview: Barry, "Literary Theory—A History in Ten Events" (Barry 262-86)

Overview: Barry, "Theory after 'Theory'" (Barry 287-317)


T, 12-12

Exam 3 Due